Tag Archives: Rask

February 16 – Day 128 – Scandinavian showdown

Happy Friday! Settle in and catch up on some puck this weekend.

Like we’ve been doing all week, the day’s action begins at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time in South Korea with Group C play of the men’s Olympic tournament. The Finns are squaring off against Norway and group-leading Sweden is taking on the Germans.

Back on our side of the Pacific Ocean, four games have been scheduled for our viewing pleasure, all starting half an hour after the game before them. We start with Philadelphia at Columbus (TVAS) at 7 p.m., trailed by and the New York Islanders at Carolina half an hour later. Colorado at Winnipeg follows suit at 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Dallas (NHLN) – finds an early 8:30 p.m. start. All times Eastern.

Back at the Olympics, we have two games scheduled for 10:10 p.m. One involves the Canadian men taking on the Czech Republic, but the most important of that time slot is the OAR vs. Switzerland in the women’s quarterfinals. Similarly, two final games are slated for 2:40 a.m. Saturday morning, one involving Finland vs. Sweden in the other women’s quarterfinal and South Korea vs. Switzerland in men’s group play. All times Eastern.

What a tough selection. There’s at least two big NHL games today (I’d argue that all four are important, but I’ll let you be the judge), while I expect the Scandinavian women’s quarterfinal to be a closely contested match.

Since no teams are getting eliminated from contention today in the NHL, I think we have to hone in on the Olympic playoff game. Off to PyeongChang!

 

If only DtFR got airline miles for the Game of the Day series… I could have a really nice vacation this summer. Time to take the European tennis tour I’ve always dreamed of!

Between these two teams, Sweden easily looked the better of the two in the group stage. Damkronorna‘s (the Lady Crowns) offense ranked (t)second-best at the Olympics by averaging 3.67 goals per game, while their defense allowed an average of only one goal against in their three showings – the (t)third-best effort in PyeongChang.

Offensively, the Lady Crowns are led by the indomitable F Pernilla Winberg, who has posted wildly impressive 2-1-3 totals in her first three showings. However, she’s not the only one averaging a point per game, as D Elin Lundberg (1-2-3), F Fanny Rask (1-2-3) and F Erika Grahm (0-3-3) are all matching her in that effort. In total, 16 of Sweden’s 20 skaters have found their way onto the scorecard, an impressive total given only three games have been played.

The Lady Crowns have also been an imposing presence in their own zone. Though the Swedish defense did allow 32.33 shots against-per-game in the group stage (third-worst among the six teams to advance to the knockout round), they’ve had the distinct luxury of G Sara Grahn dominating her crease to keep opposing offenses at bay.

With the exception of leaving the ice for 62 seconds against Switzerland to make way for a sixth skater, Grahn has been involved in every second of Sweden’s three opening games – and with good reason. Posting one shutout and allowing only one even-strength goal, she’s posted an impressive .969 save percentage and 1.01 GAA.

Meanwhile, Finland enters this game as the third place team from Group A play having earned a 1-0-0-2 record (1-2-0 if you want to put it in NHL format).

Statistically, Naisleijonat looks to be the second-worst team of the six that qualified for the knockout round. Their 2.33 goals per game, 2.67 goals against per game and 33 shots allowed per game are all superior to only the OAR, the very team they beat on the last day of group play.

Offensively, the Finns are led by a trio of skaters averaging a point per game. Of those, F Michelle  Karvinen and F Riikka Valila have been most impressive with their 2-1-3 totals, but F Petra Nieminen has also been solid with her 1-2-3 effort.

As for the defensive end, the Lady Lions’ leader in net is none other than G Noora Raty, who started all three of Finland’s group stage games. Though she’s allowed seven total goals in her three appearances, it’s been largely because her defense has been trying to bolster their applications for Swiss passports (it’s a long-winded Swiss cheese joke) by allowing so many shots. Given the pressure, Raty has actually performed fairly well, posting a solid .929 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.

Now that all those numbers are out of the way, we almost need to entirely throw them out the window.

Wait, what?

We need to remember something about the characters of the two very different groups from which these teams came. Sverige – that’s Swedish for “Sweden” – had the luxury of playing against the Japanese and Koreans in Group B, two teams that did not challenge Damkronorna whatsoever but allowed them to inflate their numbers. That was made very apparent when Sweden and Switzerland squared off, as the Swiss were able to pull off a tight 2-1 victory with only 8:32 remaining in regulation, due largely to the fact that Grahm’s tripping penalty cost Sweden the game-winning power play goal.

Meanwhile, as one of the top-four ranked teams in the world, Naisleijonat was thrust into the unenviable position of being in Group A with Teams USA and Canada. Against those powerhouses, the Lady Lions struggled mightily, scoring one goal apiece against either side. However, Suomi – you guessed it, it’s “Finland” in Finnish – showcased why it had earned its world rank by dominating the Olympic Athletes from Russia to a 5-1 victory, leading many, or at least me, to think that they are a far better side than the North Americans allowed them to seem.

Long story short, I think it’s safe to say that the Finns and Swedes are a better, more competitive matchup than they’ve seen for most of the tournament. While their statistics from the group stage might highlight either team’s particular strengths and weakness, I don’t think we should expect either team to have such a distinctly pronounced advantage over the other.

Finland’s very real chance at beating Sweden is made no more apparent than the last three results between them, as it’s the Lady Lions that swept the Lady Crowns at the 2017 Four Nations Cup. In the group stage of that tournament, the Finns beat the Swedes 3-1, followed by a 2-1 overtime victory in the third-place game. Going back even further, Finland posted a dominant 4-0 victory over Sweden in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship quarterfinals.

Keeping in mind these recent results, I think I have to lean towards Finland taking this game. However, I’m not 100 percent confident in that pick, as Sweden, even though it lost, had a solid showing against Switzerland and is more than capable of holding its own against its Scandinavian neighbor.

Whichever team wins this game will lock itself into a matchup with the United States of America in the semifinals. Additionally, qualifying for the semifinals ensures a team the shot at a medal, whether it be the Olympic Finals or the Bronze Medal Game.


With a three-point performance by First Star of the Game C Nico Hischier, the New Jersey Devils beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 at Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Two goals were struck in the first period, but fans that left their seats to get a jump on first intermission concessions wouldn’t have known it. With 2:40 remaining in the frame, F Jeff Skinner (C Victor Rask and RW Justin Williams) broke the scoreless tie with a wrist shot, but Jersey drew even only 2:21 later with a snap shot from Third Star D Damon Severson (Hischier).

It took far less time to find the first marker of the second period, and it was in this frame that the game-winning goal was struck. Second Star RW Stefan Noesen (C Travis Zajac and LW Miles Wood) broke the draw at the 6:48 mark, but just like in the first period, the game was tied once again soon after. Only 55 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Noesen, D Brett Pesce (D Jaccob Slavin and Williams) scored his third goal of the season to pull the Canes back even.

The game-winning goal belonged to W Kyle Palmieri (Hischier and D John Moore), a wrister struck with 2:32 remaining in the second period. It was one of those second chance goals, as Hischier somehow lost control of an attempted wrap-around shot in G Scott Darling‘s crease. However, with Darling already committed to saving that attempt, it left Palmieri with the opportunity to beat Darling five-hole.

The Devils continued to apply pressure in the third period, scoring two goals in the ninth minute to set the 5-2 final score. Hischier (F Taylor Hall and G Keith Kinkaid) and Noesen (Severson) provided the insurance tallies.

Kinkaid earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to Darling, who stopped 17-of-22 (.773).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are reestablishing their dominance lately, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, they’ve improved their record to 70-41-17, giving them a 26-point advantage over the roadies.

February 15 – Day 127 – Dust devils

Buckle up for a Thursday full of hockey! Between the NHL and the Olympics, there’s a total of 15 games going down today!

With the playoff bracket set for the women’s Olympic tournament, it’s all about the men’s action in PyeongChang today. Opening up our day’s action at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time are two Group A games: the Czech Republic vs. South Korea and Switzerland vs. Canada.

Back home in North America, the NHL is enjoying another busy Thursday. As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a trio of tilts (Carolina at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Pittsburgh [TVAS/SN1]), followed half an hour later by two more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). A pair of games drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Calgary at Nashville and Washington at Minnesota), while Anaheim at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Next up is Montréal at Arizona (RDS) at 9 p.m., trailed an hour later by Edmonton at Vegas (SN1) and Vancouver at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Returning our attention to South Korea, the American men are taking on Slovakia at 10:10 p.m., followed by the OAR against Slovenia at 2:40 a.m. Friday morning – both in Group B play. All times Eastern.

As usual, it’s a stellar slate of hockey games. Beyond the Olympic group play, two NHL rivalries drew my attention when the schedule was released this summer.

  • New York at New York: Earlier in the season, the Battle of New York looked like it was going to be a big deal. Maybe next year.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The same was said in the preseason about this rivalry featuring a team that had qualified for the Eastern Finals and another that looked to be improving. Maybe next year.

However, don’t read too much into that and think no important games are going on in the NHL tonight. As for the most important, look no further than the fixture atop the league’s schedule.

 

27-21-9 Carolina enters tonight’s game riding a three-game winning streak and four-game point streak that has propelled it into the second wildcard. However, that winning streak comes with a slight asterisk: those wins came against Vancouver, Colorado and Los Angeles – three teams not currently in playoff position.

That being said, the Hurricanes didn’t make their own schedule, they just have to play teams as they come up. And play them they have, as the Canes have been the stingiest team in the NHL since February 6, allowing only 1.75 goals against per game in that time.

As might be expected, 17-7-3 G Cam Ward has been a major part of that success, as he’s been in net for three of Carolina’s last four games. In those three starts, he’s posted an impressive .933 save percentage and 1.95 GAA to improve his season numbers to .912 and 2.6.

With the Islanders heading to Raleigh to square off against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it remains to be seen if Ward will be in net tonight or if he’ll go tomorrow. Personally, I’m pegging 10-14-6 G Scott Darling to draw the start tonight given the potency of New York’s attack. Though he only has an .894 save percentage and 2.99 GAA on the season, he will have the benefit of a stellar defense playing in front of him whichever night he’s in net.

One of the Hurricanes’ most exciting defensemen of late has been D Haydn Fleury, the 21-year-old flying all over the ice causing havoc. Though he has only played in Carolina’s last two games, he leads the team in hits-per-game (3.5) and blocks-per-game since (2.5) February 6. C Victor Rask has also been impressive during this four-game streak, as he leads the team with nine takeaways in that time.

Between the efforts of Fleury, Rask and the entire Carolina defense, the Hurricanes have allowed an average of only 28 shots against per game, the sixth-best in the NHL since February 6.

The last time we featured the Devils was also their last showing. Tuesday’s 5-4 come-from-behind shootout victory in Philadelphia snapped Jersey’s four-game losing skid that featured it losing to the likes of Ottawa and Columbus – two teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

The only reason New Jersey was able to stop the bleeding is because its offense was able to keep up with the Flyers, but that’s not to say the Devils are scoring with the best of teams right now. Since February 6, Jersey has averaged only 2.6 goals per game – the (t)seventh-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Of course, if there’s one thing a struggling offense doesn’t mix well with, it’s a porous defensive end. Between a defense that has allowed a (t)12th-worst 33.8 shots against per game over its last five games or 11-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid not being 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider, the Devils are having to pay their scoreboard operator overtime lately considering they’re allowing a second-worst 4.6 goals against per game since February 6.

With no game tomorrow and Schneider likely not ready to make his return tonight, Kinkaid is all but certain to be in net this evening. As stated Tuesday, he’s struggled mightily since assuming starting duties while Schneider is recovering from his groin injury, posting a save percentage (.869) and GAA (4.8) in his last four starts that is well below his season marks of a .891 save percentage and 3.31 GAA.

Even though we’re two weeks past the All-Star Break, the NHL’s officially unofficial midway point of the season, this is surprisingly the first meeting of the season between the Canes and Devils. However, just as soon as the four-game season series gets started, it’ll be finished: these clubs will tangle for the second time only three days from now in Raleigh, followed by another game at PNC Arena on March 2 and their final meeting of the season on March 27.

Though the Devils were able to find the win column Tuesday, it’s hard to imagine an evening where they’re able to beat another surging team. I think the Canes are more than capable of earning two points in the standings today, and doing it in regulation would earn them a promotion into the East’s top wild card.


With a 2-1 victory against Team USA in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Kwandong Hockey Centre, the Canadian women swept Group A play to earn the top seed in the Olympic knockout tournament.

The best scoring opportunity of the first period belonged to Team Canada with 3:15 remaining in the frame. In fact, the opportunity was so good, the puck actually found the back of G Maddie Rooney’s net. However, the play had been ruled dead before the Canadian would-be scorer even struck her shot due to the international rule that restricts all activity by the opposition in a goaltender’s crease, leaving the score tied a 0-0.

F Meghan Agosta (F Natalie Spooner and F Brianne Jenner) broke the scoreless draw at the 7:18 mark of the second period. With D Megan Keller in the penalty box, that left the slot unprotected following a backward centering pass from Spooner from the goal line. Agosta took advantage to flip a wrist shot past Rooney.

Even though the play appeared to be offside, F Sarah Nurse (D Jocelyne Larocque) doubled Canada’s advantage with 5:04 remaining in the period by flinging a wrister from along the left boards over Rooney’s right shoulder. Team USA had an opportunity to pull back within a goal with 3:52 remaining in the frame with a penalty shot, but F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s backhander was blocked by G Genevieve Lacasse.

Only 23 seconds into the third period, Team USA finally found its first goal of the game when F Kendall Coyne (F Brianna Decker) split two Canadian defensewomen to beat Lacasse five-hole.

Canada thought it had reclaimed a two-goal advantage with 9:08 remaining in regulation, but Haley Irwin used her skate instead of her stick to beat Rooney. The goal was taken off the board, returning the score to 2-1.

That revoked tally didn’t ultimately prove to matter, as the Americans could not find it in them to level the game in the remaining time.

Lacasse earned the victory after saving 44-of-45 shots faced (.978 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rooney, who saved 21-of-23 (.913).

With Canada technically being listed as the home team in yesterday’s game, its victory snapped a three-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 69-41-17 hosts now have a 24-point advantage over the visitors.

February 9 – Day 121 – Blue Angels

Fridays are the bomb.com. This one is no exception, as the league has eight games on the schedule.

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when three games drop the puck (Detroit at the New York Islanders, Calgary at the New York Rangers and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by two more (Los Angeles at Florida and Vancouver at Carolina). Next up is St. Louis at Winnipeg at 8 p.m., while Pittsburgh at Dallas (SN1) waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Anaheim closes out the evening at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

In addition to those NHL tilts, the women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang is also getting underway, as Japan is taking on Sweden in Group B play at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time Saturday morning.

Among the games that stick out, here’s a few I selected…

  • Pittsburgh at Dallas: Drafted in 2011, D Jamie Oleksiak spent six seasons within the Stars organization. Tonight marks his first return to American Airlines Center since being traded in December.
  • Edmonton at Anaheim: It’s a rematch of last year’s Western Semifinals! One team looks capable of making a return to that round, one… doesn’t.
  • Japan vs. Sweden: I mean, this is hockey’s opening act of the 2018 Olympics we’re talking about here. How can this not be an important game?

However, there’s one more NHL game that sticks out above the rest, so it looks like we won’t be headed to Pyeongchang today. Maybe tomorrow!

 

In all honesty, if the Blues’ offense had performed yesterday like it did against Minnesota on Tuesday, we very well might be focusing on the Japan vs. Sweden game.

And that’s coming from somebody who will be wearing the Note at work this evening.

Instead, Head Coach Mike Yeo worked some magic with his line blender to lead his Notes to an explosive 6-1 victory against the Avs, the most goals they’ve scored in a game since another six-marker performance on December 9 in Detroit.

Don’t let C Paul Stastny‘s two points in last night’s game fool you: St. Louis’ top line is still a work in progress. In both instances when he found the scoresheet, he was the only forward listed, as he and D Vince Dunn assisted D Alex Pietrangelo to the captain’s second period goal and D Jay Bouwmeester and D Carl Gunnarsson assisted Stastny to his third period insurance tally.

Instead, it would seem that these new look Blues’ most dominant line might be its second, as F Patrik Berglund and F Brayden Schenn seemed to show some chemistry on the former Flyer’s second period goal. That line was completed by F Jaden Schwartz, whose +24 is (t)seventh-best in the league.

The fourth line also found the scorecard in the second frame when D Colton Parayko and LW Scottie Upshall provided helpers on F Ivan Barbashev‘s game-winner.

It will be interesting to see if Yeo lets his current lines play another game as they currently are (I’d put my chips in that pile) or if he’ll shake things up again tonight.

Though offense has certainly been a struggle of late for St. Louis, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been finding wins. In fact, the Blues have won seven of their past 10 games to hold on to third place in the Central Division and keep the surging Stars at bay.

Logic would lead us to believe the Notes have been one of the best defensive teams in the league during that run, but that’s only half true. The defensive skaters have been nothing worth writing home about considering their 30.9 shots against-per-game since January 16 is only 13th best in the league in that time, but 15-5-1 G Carter Hutton has been incredible in spite of that considerable workload.

Few goaltenders in the NHL have been as dominant as Hutton since January 16. He’s posted a 7-2-0 record in his past nine starts with an outstanding .95 save percentage and 1.47, improving his season numbers to a .944 save percentage and 1.7 GAA – both of which are best in the league. In fact, with the exception of G Tuukka Rask‘s 1.43 GAA since mid-January, no goaltender with more than six starts in that time even comes close to Hutton’s performance.

In other words, Hutton has been the Blues’ biggest weapon for the past two weeks – if not longer.

Of note, Hutton was in net last night in St. Louis for the Blues’ victory over the Avalanche. That leads me to believe the likely starter this evening will be 18-15-2 G Jake Allen, who has lost five consecutive decisions since December 27 with a combined .892 save percentage. If he does in fact draw the start, the Blues’ offense had better be prepared to keep pace with the Jets’ otherworldly firepower (aka RW Blake Wheeler, who’s 44 assists are sixth-most in the league).

Whichever netminder is in the crease, he has the unenviable job of trying to slow down 32-13-9 Winnipeg, who has posted a dominant 6-0-2 record over its past eight games to keep pace with the Central Division-leading Predators (the Jets are tied in points, but have one more game played than Nashville).

Of course, the Jets simply haven’t looked the same since C Mark Scheifele went down with an upper-body injury on December 27. In his absence, they’ve become a bit of a defensive team, allowing only 1.88 goals per game since January 20, the third-best mark in the NHL in that time.

While 28-6-8 G Connor Hellebuyck has looked extremely solid over this stretch (more on him in a moment), I’ve been most impressed with the efforts of his defense. Led by the efforts of D Josh Morrissey (2.9 blocks per game over this run), D Dustin Byfuglien and F Mathieu Perreault (both with seven takeaways since January 20, and Perreault with 2.1 hits per game in that time), Winnipeg has allowed only 29.5 shots against per game over this streak, the fifth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

With a workload that light, it’s hard for the league’s second-best goaltender in terms of wins to do much besides succeed. He’s started all but one of the Jets’ past eight games, earning a 5-0-2 record with a solid .934 save percentage and 1.94 GAA to improve his season numbers to .924 and 2.32, both of which are eighth-best in the NHL this season.

Halfway through the four-game series between these two clubs, we’re knotted at one game apiece with both teams winning their first home game against the other. St. Louis was the first to don its home colors, and Hutton shutout the Jets’ potent offense to a 2-0 victory on December 16 (Hutton’s three shutouts on the season are [t]seventh-most in the NHL). However, Hellebuyck and Winnipeg matched the Blues’ shutout with one of its own the next day (one of a [t]second-best five on the season), as the Jets won 4-0 at Bell MTS Centre.

In what looked like a battle of the offenses when the season started, this game will be decided by which offense can simply manage to muster up a goal against these two stellar defensive efforts. Since the Jets are playing at home this evening and they didn’t have to travel overnight like St. Louis, I’m leaning towards them earning two points tonight to surpass Nashville for the division lead (at least for a night) and pull within a point of Vegas for the Western Conference lead.


An explosive three-goal second period is all the Calgary Flames needed to beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Prudential Center.

Since no goals were struck in the first period, First Star of the Game C Sean Monahan‘s (D Dougie Hamilton and D Mark Giordano) wrist shot 4:16 into the second frame gave the Flames a one-goal lead. Second Star F Taylor Hall provided an unassisted wrister only 3:07 later to level the game, but Calgary was just getting its scoring started. Third Star LW Johnny Gaudreau (W Micheal Ferland) reclaimed the lead with 5:27 in the frame, but it was Monahan’s (Gaudreau and D T.J. Brodie) second marker of the period that proved to be the game-winner.

Just like Flames play-by-play announcer Rick Ball said, “persistence pays off.” After receiving a pass from Gaudreau at the blue line, Monahan attacked up the boards and through the left face-off circle before trying to beat G Keith Kinkaid near side. His initial shot found the goal post, but Monahan’s momentum carried him behind the net to Kinkaid’s left, just in time for him to collect his own aerial rebound. He one-timed his own miss-turned-assist (I mean, it was intentional, right?) past Kinkaid’s glove, clipping the left goal post before finding the back of the net 1:55 before the end of the frame.

C Pavel Zacha (F Brian Boyle and Hall) took advantage of D Travis Hamonic‘s hi-stick against F Blake Coleman to score a power play backhanded shot 7:23 into the third period, but Jersey could not find a third goal to level the game.

G David Rittich earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 22-of-25 (.88).

That’s three points in the last two games for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, they’ve pulled within 26 points of the 67-39-15 hosts.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo

1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

pittsburgh_penguins_logo

2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

New Jersey Devils Logo

3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 16 & 17

Another two-week special, courtesy of a trip to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Skater of the Week(s): Evgeni Malkin

Hey, so, you know that thing the Penguins do where they trick everyone into thinking they’re not very good and then right around February they just start crapping in everyone’s Wheaties? Yeah, keep those cereal boxes sealed.

The Pens are 4-1-0 in five games over this two-week span, and Geno is a major reason why. With eight goals and 11 points over the five contests, Malkin leads the league by two points in overall scoring in that span, and teammate Phil Kessel is the one trailing him. Possibly even more impressive is the fact that in the first game of the five, he was held scoreless, so he’s actually put up those numbers across just four contests. Throw in three power play tallies, a game-winner, and a cartoonish .40 shooting percentage, and it’s not hard to see why Malkin gets the nod here.

Tendy of the Week(s): Carter Hutton

I’m honestly very glad I checked the stats page on this, because I was jotting down Tuukka Rask‘s name when I saw he had actually been bested.

Hutton continues an absolutely ridiculous run this season with a perfect 4-0-0 record and seemingly-impossible advanced stats with a .984 save percentage and 0.50 GAA over the past two weeks. He’s given up two goals on 123 shots, and I literally cannot even come up with anything witty for that.

The 32-year old career journeyman now boasts a 14-4-1 record on the season with a .947 save percentage and 1.61 GAA. When the Blues traded Brian Elliott, it was because they felt they now possessed a true #1 goaltender for the future. But I’m pretty sure Hutton was not the name they were thinking of at the time.

Game of the Week: Super Bowl LII

The empire has fallen. Behold a god that bleeds.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Rick Nash has submitted his list of teams that he would not accept a trade to upon the Rangers’ request. The former Rocket Richard winner is now in his mid-30s and has seen his production dip signficantly, though some think a change of scenery could reinvigorate his career. The popular narrative is that he returns to Columbus, but I think I speak for most intelligent CBJ fans when I say ‘Dear god please no’.

Jaromir Jagr retired from the NHL and returned to his native Czech Republic to continue his career back home. There were many touching sendoffs from around the NHL, but I’m honestly not sure why considering he’ll just come back in about three years and be a productive player for a few more teams.

Filip Forsberg was suspended for three games following a very illegal hit, a decision that has apparently shocked and upset his teammates. Now I will definitely say the Department of Player Safety has been less than stellar with some decisions this year, and I am certainly of the opinion that good clean hits cause far too much hooplah anymore, but I don’t know how anyone can defend a hit as late and dirty as this one.

Rookie sensation Charlie McAvoy made his triumphant return to the Bruins lineup just 12 days after undergoing a procedure on his heart to treat an abnormal rhythm. I’m not a doctor, but that sounds like a pretty heroic comeback effort to me after literally having the thing that keeps you alive fixed.

Radko Gudas is back at the center of controversy, because of course he is. The oft-suspended Flyers defenseman made airborne contact with Kyle Palmieri after attempting to avoid leg-on-leg contact with teammate Wayne Simmonds by leaping out of the way, only to be met by a backchecking Palmieri. I am actually of the belief that this was truly an accident, but Gudas’ history probably doesn’t help his case.

No one knows what goaltender interference actually is anymore, so everybody get your licks in on that guy who always stones you on breakaways while you can.

February 4 – Day 116 – The ocean is a dangerous place

This is it guys: the last day of the year that football can get in the way of hockey. It’s almost over.

Unfortunately, today’s football game just so happens to be the biggest of the year, so the NHL isn’t trying to compete too much with only three matinees on the schedule. The action begins at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time with Vegas at Washington, followed half an hour later by today’s extremely early co-nightcaps: Ottawa at Montréal (RDS/SN) and San Jose at Carolina.

Before the season even began, I had two of today’s three tilts circled on my calendar:

  • Vegas at Washington: D Nate Schmidt is back in the capital city, and he’s bringing his new friends from the desert with him.
  • Ottawa at Montréal: A rivalry game between two of the bottom-three teams in the Atlantic Division? Oh boy!

However, in an odd twist of fate, I’m actually leaning towards the activities taking place in Raleigh, N.C. today since we’ve highlighted the Capitals or Golden Knights in three of the past five featured games. To the Research Triangle!

 

No matter how often I keep doubting the Sharks, they just keep on finding ways to win. As such, they’ve earned 27-16-8 record that is good enough for second place in the Pacific Division.

At the start of the season, San Jose was priding itself on stellar play in the defensive zone while its offense struggled to find much traction. However, those roles have been swapped of late, as it’s been the attack that has led the Sharks to posting 3-2-2 record in their last seven games played.

Since January 20, San Jose has averaged a (t)seventh-best 3.29 goals per game, and it’s all due to the excellence of the first line. F Logan Couture and RW Kevin Labanc have posted respective 5-2-7 and 3-4-7 totals (improving their respective season marks to 22-17-39 and 7-22-29) to average a point-per-game over this run. F Tomas Hertl completes the line with his 2-4-6 effort.

They’ve also received some extra help from the blue line from the likes of D Brent Burns, who joins Couture and Labanc in averaging a point-per-game with his 1-6-7 totals in the past seven tilts, and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s 3-3-6 surge.

Of course, this offensive explosion has been born mostly out of necessity, as San Jose’s defense has struggled to be much better than average lately, allowing 31.86 shots against per game over their past seven tilts ([t]13th-worst in the league).

That puts the onus on 12-4-3 G Aaron Dell – who will be starting this afternoon – to keep things under control in the defensive end, but if recent history is any indicator, the offense will need to keep up its stellar production. In Dell’s last four starts, he’s posted only a 2-1-1 record with an .882 save percentage and 3.52 GAA.

Speaking of average, there’s not a better word that describes the 24-20-8 Hurricanes of late. However, sometimes average is exactly what you need to win, and that seems to be the case for Carolina, a team that has won three of its past four games.

Of the three facets of the game that have struck me as average, the one that has definitely been the best is the Canes’ offense. Carolina has averaged 2.75 goals per game since January 25 (the [t]11th-best mark in the NHL in that time).

But don’t read too much into the word average. Even though the net result of the team’s effort may fit into that description, it doesn’t mean individual players haven’t shined brightly. In fact, a whopping four players are averaging at least a point-per-game since January 25, and that group is spearheaded by F Teuvo Teravainen‘s 2-3-5 effort over the past four games to elevate his season marks to 13-28-41 – the best in Raleigh. Behind him, C Victor Rask (1-3-4), RW Justin Williams (1-3-4) and D Noah Hanifin (0-4-4) have also helped keep the Canes ahead of the opposition.

For most of the season, Carolina has prided itself on stellar defense, but it seems the Hurricanes are still a little sluggish after the All-Star Break considering they’ve allowed 31.5 shots against per game since January 25 – the exact middle of the road for the NHL in that time.

Fortunately, it seems 15-6-2 G Cam Ward is more than up to the challenge, as he’s won all three of his most recent starts. In those showings, he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 2 GAA, and he might be just the edge the Canes need to pull off a victory today.

The Hurricanes have already made their annual visit to The Tank this season during a six-game road trip. They required an overtime goal from Burns, but the Sharks were able to comeback from a 4-1 second period deficit to knock off Carolina 5-4.

Though I think it’s safe to say San Jose’s offense has definitely been ticking at a better pace of late, the Sharks’ lackadaisical effort in the defensive zone is just too much of a liability for me in this game. I think Ward leads Carolina to a victory this afternoon.


The Dallas Stars showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 6-1 at American Airlines Center.

Making Dallas’ offensive explosion even more impressive is the fact that not a single goal was struck in the first period. Don’t think that it was for a lack of effort though, as a combined 19 shots were saved by Second Star of the Game G Kari Lehtonen and G Alex Stalock.

However, that narrative did not carry into the second period – at least not for Stalock. The Stars scored four goals in the frame in the span of only 5:08, meaning Dallas averaged a goal every 77 seconds.

F Mattias Janmark (D John Klingberg and C Jason Spezza) claimed the honor of breaking the scoreless draw with a power play tip-in 8:58 into the period, followed 39 seconds later by an unassisted slap shot from Third Star D Stephen Johns that proved to be the game-winner.

Johns ended up with the puck due to a sloppy attempt by RW Nino Niederreiter to dump the puck into the Wild’s offensive zone. With everyone headed that way, Johns advanced unimpeded into his own attacking zone before ripping a clapper from the right face-off dot past Stalock’s glove.

The third goal belonged to LW Jamie Benn (F Devin Shore and First Star F Tyler Seguin) with 8:11 remaining in the period, a power play snap shot struck 2:12 after Johns’ game-winner. Seguin (Benn and RW Alexander Radulov) completed the outburst 2:17 after the horn stopped blaring for Benn with a wrist shot.

5:40 into the third period, W Jason Zucker (F Mikael Granlund and D Jared Spurgeon) pulled the Wild back within a 4-1 deficit, but insurance goals from Radulov (Seguin) and D Dan Hamhuis (D Greg Pateryn and RW Brett Ritchie) eliminated any chance of a Minnesota comeback.

Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968 save percentage), leaving the loss to Stalock, who saved 25-of-29 (.862). The Stars’ final two goals were charged to G Devan Dubnyk, who replaced Lehtonen for the third period. He saved seven-of-nine (.778) for no decision.

Four straight wins by the 64-37-15 hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series has given them a 25-point advantage over the roadies.

January 17 – Day 102 – It’s time for that rivalry

Only two games are on the schedule today, but they both have serious potential to be stellar television.

The action begins at 7:30 when Montréal pays a visit to Boston (NBCSN/RDS/SN), and it will be followed by Pittsburgh at Anaheim (NBCSN/SN/SN360) at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.

Though the Ducks and Penguins are separated by only two points in the table, there’s no way we can miss what’s going down in Beantown.

 

Of these two bitter rivals, the 24-10-8 Bruins are easily having the better season. They currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and third place in the Eastern Conference.

While Boston has been in playoff position for a while now (approximately a month), it has surged past the Maple Leafs in the last three weeks by earning points in 13 consecutive games with a 9-0-4 record.

It could be argued that Boston has been the best team in the NHL since December 16, as the Bruins have posted an incredible wicked 3.92 goals per game over their last 13.

No Bruin has been hotter during this run than LW Brad Marchand, which is the same it’s been all season. He’s posted 6-9-15 totals over his last 15 games to pad his team-leading 18-23-41 stats. However, he’s not alone in averaging at least a point-per-game lately. F David Backes (6-7-13), C Patrice Bergeron (9-4-13) and F Danton Heinen (4-10-14) are all matching the feat, even though Backes and Heinen are on the third line. Of note, Bergeron is still getting work done in the defensive end with his (t)eighth-best +19 on the season, but his consistent offensive production never hurts.

But that offense isn’t just showing up on the TD Garden scoreboard  for the Bruins. With the offense possessing the puck so well, opposing defenses are having a hard time of earning their own strikers an opportunity to play with the puck. As a result, the Bruins have allowed an eighth-fewest 29.77 shots against per game since December 16, a mark that tops the Atlantic Division. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have D Zdeno Chara ([t]fourth-best +21 in the league) managing the defensive zone with his team-leading 74 blocks on the season.

Of course, that still means 15-8-4 G Tuukka Rask has had some work to do, but he’s been up to the task every night he takes to the crease. Though he had his struggles early in the season – to the point of temporarily losing his starting job to backup 9-2-4 G Anton Khudobin – Rask has joined his team in playing spectacularly over the past month. In his last nine starts, he’s posted a solid .93 save percentage and 1.95 GAA, pulling his season marks up to a .919 save percentage and (t)third-best in the league 2.26 GAA.

It’s a tall task the 18-30-6 Habs face – and that’d be true even if they were among the league’s elite this season. However, that is not the case for Montréal this campaign, as it currently sits third from the bottom in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole.

While the season as a whole may be a bit of doom and gloom for The City of Saints, 2018 has not been all bad. In fact, the Canadiens have earned points in all four of their previous games, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltender.

It usually goes without saying that 13-14-4 G Carey Price is one of the best netminders – if not players overall – in this league. This little run the Habs are on has absolutely proved it, as the defense has allowed an eighth-worst 34.25 shots against per game since January 4. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Price has posted a .92 save percentage and 2.63 GAA under those trying circumstances, both of which are better than the .908 and 2.95 he’s posted on the season.

With Price playing in top form like he is right now, he offers his offense – which has managed a (t)12th-best 3.25 goals per game during this run – the opportunity to succeed even though they aren’t among the league’s best forwards. LW Max Pacioretty has been the Habs’ best striker of late, as he’s riding a four-game goal streak. With him, F Alex Galchenyuk (2-2-4) and D Jeff Petry (0-4-4) all averaging a point-per-game, Montréal’s offense could be a tougher out tonight than the Bruins might expect.

These squads have squared off only once this season so far, and that game took place this last Saturday. Though they needed a shootout goal from Marchand, the Bruins were able to win Round 1 with a 4-3 victory.

With the Bruins’ having already won in Bell Centre not even a week ago and owning home ice this evening, it’s hard to pick against them to beat the Habs tonight. Of course, this rivalry almost always produces tight, competitive affairs, so anything can truly happen tonight.


The Nashville Predators avoided getting swept by the Vegas Golden Knights in their season series, as they defended Bridgestone Arena to a 1-0 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Without a doubt, the brightest star in this contest was First Star of the Game G Juuse Saros, who saved all 43 shots he faced for his third shutout victory of the season and fourth of his career.

G Marc-Andre Fleury also some deserves credit for allowing only one goal against (more on that in a moment) on 27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), but it’s his defense that really deserves the most praise. Led by D Brayden McNabb‘s four hits and three blocks, the Knights limited Nashville to a lowly 27 shots on goal (it averages 30.4 per game for the season), including two frames the Preds were held to single-digit successful shot attempts.

Fleury may have been the only goaltender to blink, but it took him a long time to do it. At exactly the 48 minute mark of the game (eight minutes into the third period), Third Star D P.K. Subban fired a slap shot that – thanks to McNabb – never reached Fleury.

However, it’s that shot block that came to be the Golden Knights’ downfall. Since Fleury wasn’t the one to block the puck, he didn’t know where it went. It was his second or two of confusion that allowed Second Star W Kevin Fiala (Subban and F Colton Sissons) to tuck a wrist shot under the bar into a gaping cage for the game-winner.

Nashville’s victory gives home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series a 56-34-12 record that is exactly 20 points superior to the road teams’ effort.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 14

Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal

These bye-weeks are making things weird.

Barzal gets the nod for this week’s award having only played one game during that span. But what a game it was.

Helping his Islanders to a 7-2 rout of the rival Rangers, young Barzal tallied his second five-point game of his breakout rookie campaign with two goals and three helpers. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that all five points were scored at even-strength, no power play help needed. This also landed Barzal a perfect +5 rating for the night, to go along with a .5 shooting percentage and even tallying the official game-winning goal (probably not worth much in a rout, but it pads the stats all the same).

With 44 points in 44 games to this point in the season, Barzal continues to make a very strong case for a Calder Trophy nod come season’s end.

Tendy of the Week: Mike Smith

Posting a perfect 3-0-0 record this week on the strength of just four goals allowed in those contests to rack up a .963 save percentage and a GAA just a smidge over 1.30, Smith has his Calgary Flames scorching. (Pun entirely intended)

Smith started the week stopping 33-of-35 shots faced in an overtime victory against the Wild, before nullifying 33-of-34 against the league-leading Lightning and 38-of-39 against Carolina to extend his winning streak to six games.

Calgary went out and got Smith to fill the one glaring weakness they felt they had, and if he can keep this level of play up, they could be deadly.

Game of the Week: Boston Bruins 4 vs Montreal Canadiens 3 (SO), Saturday January 13th, 2018

The 739th all-time meeting between the Original Six arch-rivals had a little something extra to offer, as it was the first meeting of the two squads since Claude Julien‘s firing from Boston and hiring by Montreal late last season. A little bit of extra hype that this tilt ended up living up to.

In total this one saw seven goals, 62 shots, 77 hits, and two power play goals on five opportunities.

Max Pacioretty would get things rolling just 3:22 into the game, collecting the rebound from a deflected Victor Mete point shot and stuffing it just inside the near post behind Tuukka Rask to give the Habs the early advantage. Most of the first period would then pass by with little affair until Brad Marchand would streak in on the back door and receive a gorgeous Patrice Bergeron centering feed from the far board and bury it top shelf to even the score at the 17:40 mark on the power play, and the two teams would carry the 1-1 score into the first intermission.

The second period would see things really open up, starting with a Jake DeBrusk breakaway tally just 2:55 into the frame. Charlie McAvoy caught the Montreal defense standing still and fed a gorgeous tape-to-tape pass to a streaking DeBrusk who made no mistake en route to his 10th goal of the year. Just 2:50 later, though, Nic Deslauriers would pounce on a Zdeno Chara turnover at center ice and streak past the stumbling Boston captain into the high slot, where he would unleash a laser of a wrist shot past the blocker of Tuukka Rask to draw his Habs back even. Then just 3:06 later Montreal would retake the lead on the power play, as Alex Galchenyuk would receive a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Drouin, take a couple strides towards the net, and absolutely smoke a wrist shot over the shoulder of Tuukka Rask into the top of the net to put his team up 3-2. The Bruins controlled a lot of the play throughout the rest of the 2nd, but were met with some solid Carey Price saves at every opportunity until at the 17:42 mark David Krejci was able to corral a bouncing puck in the slot and wire it past a surprised Price and even the game at three heading into the second intermission.

 

The third period would see both teams register the most shots of any period (12 for Boston, 10 for Montreal), but strong play by both goaltenders (and a few clutch saves by the goalpost to the right of Rask) kept things knotted at three to end regulation and send the proceedings to three-on-three overtime. Montreal looked to have it won in the waning seconds when a Jakub Jerabek shot found it’s way up and over Rask, but a diving Torey Krug managed to bat the puck out of the blue paint before Pacioretty or Plekanec could get a stick on it.

So off to the shootout we went. Both Paul Byron and Jake DeBrusk would score in the first frame, but after that the two goaltenders shut things down for the remaining two shooters a side to force shootout overtime, where Rask would shut the door on Galchenyuk to allow Brad Marchand to streak in and bury the game-winner right through the five hole of Carey Price and directly into the hearts of the Montreal faithful.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

I saved the Phillip Danault story from the Boston/Montreal game for this section, because it definitely deserves to be highlighted. Danault is reported to be doing alright and was released from the hospital Sunday after an overnight evaluation. The Habs forward took a Zdeno Chara slapshot off the side of the head in Saturday night’s contest, and was eventually stretchered off of the ice. A truly sombering scene in a very exciting contest, Chara was one of the first to Danault’s aid and appeared to apologize to him as he was loaded up and carried off the ice. Between this and the Girardi/Frk incident last week, I’m thinking maybe people should stop trying to block the hardest shots in the game with their faces.

Speaking of near-disasters, Milan Lucic came millimeters from life-threatening danger himself when he tangled with Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek and, upon the two falling to the ice, had his neck cut by Nosek’s skate. The picture of the stitch job is pretty unnerving, and according to Lucic the cut was mere millimeters too shallow to open up his jugular vein.

One of the NHL’s most impressive streaks is coming to an end. After 830 consecutive games, Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano will be forced to miss the next two contests after being suspended for a very-not legal hit on Kings forward Adrian Kempe. A very heated contest led to a lot of physicality, and the play was certainly very out of character for Cogliano, who sacrifices a streak that could have broken the NHL record next season had it continued.

The Vegas Golden Knights have formed their first rivalry, but not exactly the sort you’d expect. The United States Army has filed a copyright challenge to the franchise on the grounds that they already possessed the rights to the name ‘Golden Knights’ for its West Point parachute jump team. The franchise’s response? A spectacularly sarcastic tweet, obviously.

Jack Johnson has requested a trade out of Columbus. A pending UFA, it is generally believed that Johnson wants to be traded to a team where he will have a chance at seeing more playing time in an effort to raise his stock on the market, after seeing his minutes plummet in recent weeks. While many CBJ fans (myself included) hold ‘JMFJ’ in high regards as a person, trading the defender had become a very common topic in Columbus long before the player’s request, as his production has dipped significantly, highlighting his defensive shortcomings and bringing about the argument for his replacement by younger options within the CBJ system.

Tampa has lost star defender Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks with a lower body injury. I’m pretty sure if they lost every game in that time they would still be like 4th in the league, but still, it’s a bummer.

Am I the only one who thinks these Olympic Games are actually gonna be pretty fun? As rosters get released, obviously the star power we’re used to isn’t there, but convince me that these lesser-known guys, most of them being players who probably never even dreamed they’d get this chance, aren’t going to play their absolute hearts out every single second of every single game. I think it’s gonna be great.

On a final note, we learned this week via Doc Emrick that Pierre McGuire has undergone successful surgery to remove a cancer-infected prostate. He is recovering and is hopeful to rejoin the broadcast team in time for the Olympics. Now I, like many, can admit to yelling at Pierre to stop yapping on about whatever ridiculous stat or story he knows about some third-line player on a team I don’t like, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that cancer should take a Chara slapshot to the mush and a few skates to its main artery. So get well, Pierre, Eddy-O and everyone else that has to fight this miserable disease.

January 11 – Day 96 – Seeing red

Usually Thursdays are among the busiest days of the week, but this particular edition doesn’t quite fit the bill with only three East Coast games to offer.

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a pair of contests (Columbus at Buffalo [SN] and Carolina at Washington [NHLN]), but the nightcap – Calgary at Tampa Bay (TVAS) – gets an early start at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Toronto and Vegas.

Fortunately, all three tilts are being broadcast nationally so no one gets left out on tonight’s fun. However, it is citizens of the United States that are truly the lucky ones, because they get tonight’s best matchup.

 

Hidden within this tilt between Southeast-turned-Metropolitan Division rivals is the homecoming of Mr. Game 7 to Washington for the first time since returning to Raleigh this offseason.

RW Justin Williams played the last two seasons before this one with W Alex Ovechkin and company. Following a successful seven seasons in Los Angeles that earned him his second and third Stanley Cup rings (not to mention the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy), the Kings left him unsigned and he joined the Caps on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Beyond the simple offensive prowess he had shown throughout his NHL tenure (he’d averaged .63 points per game for his career leading up to the 2015-’16 season), Williams was brought into the Washington fold to bring the very thing it had missed in seasons past: the clutch factor. The ability to take the ice in a Game 7 knowing they had the experience and scoring touch to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.

Williams brought exactly what the Capitals expected as far as his scoring was concerned. Having scored .63 points per game for the first 14 seasons of his career, Williams managed a .62 in two seasons with the Caps to post 46-54-100 totals during his tenure.

However, Mr. Game 7 apparently didn’t travel from the West to East Coast, because he managed only 2-1-3 totals in five elimination games with Washington. In fact, even though the Capitals clawed their way back into last year’s Eastern Semifinal against Pittsburgh from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, all Williams can claim for his last three postseason games are six shots on goal. No goals, no assists. Heck, he even has a goal-differential of zero.

While I’m sure the Caps’ dire cap situation is the primary reason he swapped out red sweaters this offseason, Williams not delivering in the postseason like he was expected to must have factored into the decision to not resign him at least a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, Williams was presented with the opportunity to resign with the Hurricanes, the club with which he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006, on a two-year, $9 million contract. He pounced on the opportunity immediately.

So far, Williams has continued his stellar offensive production. With 7-19-26 totals alongside LW Brock McGinn and C Victor Rask on the Canes’ third line, he’s posting his .62 points-per-game while while also providing a guiding hand for a team with an average age of 26.4-years-old – 1.3 years younger than the league average according to hockeyreference.com.

That guiding hand is apparently working, because Carolina has a 19-15-8 record that is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the second wildcard spot.

We already talked on Tuesday about the impressive surge the Canes have been on lately, earning 17 points over their past 13 games with an 8-4-1 record. However, the next step for this Carolina team is to start beating some of the best teams in the league with a little bit more consistency.

The last six games the Hurricanes have played have been against teams currently in playoff position. In those contests, they’ve managed only a 2-3-1 record, and it’s due in large part to the defense meeting their match against some of the best offenses the game has to offer.

Usually, Carolina is one of the soundest defenses in the NHL. On the season, F Jeff Skinner (42 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (2.4 hits-per-game) have led the Canes to allowing only 29.1 shots against per game, the fewest in the league by half a shot.

Statistically, that defense is still unmatched. Over its past six games, Carolina has allowed only 28 shots per game, the fewest in the league since December 29. However, 11-4-2 G Cam Ward‘s numbers are plummeting from his season marks of a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. How can it be that he’s managed only an .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in his past five starts?

Answer: solid offenses.

It is worth mentioning who these current playoff teams are Carolina has played lately: Pittsburgh (2-1 win), at St. Louis (3-2 loss), Washington (5-4 overtime loss), at Pittsburgh (4-0 win), at Boston (7-1 loss) and at Tampa Bay (5-4 loss).

Of these offenses, three are in the top-10 in goals-per-game, and for good reason: they have some of the best scorers in the league. In short, players on these teams (think RW Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin, just to name a couple) don’t need much room to find the back of the net.

That would put the onus on Ward to perform better against these top teams to keep games close, as well as the offense to find a way to break through these clubs’ defenses with a little bit more success. However, with Carolina and Washington playing a home-and-home series tonight and tomorrow, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of 8-11-6 G Scott Darling for this evening’s matchup.

Darling hasn’t exactly been all the Canes had hoped he’d be when they acquired him this offseason, but he’ll get another opportunity tonight against the Metropolitan Division-leading 27-13-3 Capitals. Washington is rolling right now, as they’ve won five-straight and earned points in 11 of their past 12 games with a 9-1-2 record.

Just like Carolina, Washington is finding much of its success on the defensive end with solid play from RW Alex Chiasson, 24-8-0 G Braden Holtby, D Dmitry Orlov, D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson, but we tackled that conversation Sunday.

Instead, let’s talk offense.

We’ve already mentioned Ovechkin and the stellar season he’s having. Posting 27-19-46 points (a goal total that ties Kucherov for most in the NHL), he’s well on his way to having his best season since the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign where he registered 56 points in 48 games.

He’s certainly been the hero during this impressive run the Caps have been on since December 12, but he’s also received tremendous support from D John Carlson and C Nicklas Backstrom, who’ve earned respective 3-9-12 and 4-7-11 marks over their past dozen games.

This offensive explosion has been happening all season for Carlson, who must have gleaned a thing or two from D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s short stay in the capital. He’s already posted 5-29-34 totals for the season in his first 43 games played, and if he continues on his pace, he may very well have a season even better than his 12-43-55 career year in 2014-’15.

Tonight marks Game 2 of four between these clubs for the 2017-’18 regular season. The Capitals made the trip down I-95 on January 2. Even though Rask managed to post a two-goal night, Ovechkin was able to match him and score the most important tally of the game: the overtime game winner. Washington won the contest 5-4.

With Darling in net on the road in a usually hostile environment, I have a hard time of seeing the Canes pulling out the victory tonight. However, they will have more than their fair shot at evening the weekend series tomorrow when theses teams square off once again in Raleigh.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game road losing skid by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center.

Making it all the sweeter, the victory was of the come-from-behind variety, as Third Star of the Game D Brent Seabrook (D Michal Kempny and C Nick Schmaltz) – coming off his first-ever healthy scratch when Chicago played in Ottawa the day before – scored a wrist shot with 7:36 remaining in the first frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 9:58 mark of the second period for Minnesota to level the game. D Jonas Brodin (W Jason Zucker and D Mathew Dumba) was the guilty party, scoring a slap shot from the blue line for only his fourth tally of the season.

As for the game-winner, it was fired off First Star D Ryan Suter‘s (C Mikko Koivu and F Mikael Granlund) stick 3:03 into the third period during four-on-four play. Not usually known for his scoring touch (this was only his sixth goal of the year), Suter received a cross-ice pass from Koivu above the right face-off circle that he turned into a powerful top-shelf wrister that squeezed between G Anton Forsberg‘s left ear and shoulder – an area that is almost impossible to defend.

Another major player in the Wild’s victory was Second Star G Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left Forsberg with the loss after he saved 25-of-27 (.926).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are showing life lately, as they’ve earned points in three of the last four contests. However, the series is still dominated by the 54-30-12 home teams, as they still have a 24-point advantage.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 12 & 13

With New Years and the GLI preventing me from posting last week (and being out of town this weekend pushing this yet another day back) I’ll be combining the past two weeks of action, because I make the rules here and you all just have to deal with it. So there.

Skater of the Week(s): Mikko Rantanen

Though the big Finn was overshadowed slightly by teammate Nathan MacKinnon by two points over this stretch, Rantanen’s 10 points in six games are still nothing to scoff at. An even split of five goals (one on the power play) and five assists (also one power play tally) to go with a ridiculous +9 rating over the six games put the 21-year old at 41 points in 41 games and dug him out of a -8 +/- hole to put him at a +1 on the season.

If Rantanen can continue producing at a point-a-game rate to go along with the incredible numbers MacKinnon is putting up, he may well lead the Avs (and my fantasy team) right into the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week(s): Tuukka Rask

(Special mentions to Jimmy Howard, Connor Hellebuyck, Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop, who all posted one more win than Rask over this span and all had terrific numbers of their own, as well.)

The Bruins are scorching hot right now and Rask is a huge part of that. The man with two Us and two Ks truly was too good over these past two weeks, posting wins in all three of his starts with a scarcely believable .974 save percentage and 0.67 GAA to his credit, along with a shutout (duh) for good measure.

Boston is never going to run down Tampa for the division’s top spot without some sort of extinction-level event befalling the Lightning, but with three games in hand over third place Toronto and the Grand Canyon between them and fourth place, the Bs look to be fairly comfortable in their push towards the playoffs. If Rask carries this play into the postseason, everyone should be scared.

Game of the Week(s): Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………

Okay, so, admittedly I did not watch a lot of hockey over the past 14 or so days. I can tell you that Michigan vs Michigan State in the consolation game of the GLI was a lot of fun, and the Winter Classic looked like it was a barnburner. Also the Jackets and Panthers went eight rounds into the shootout Sunday night, a game that I was originally supposed to attend (you’re welcome, friend who I gave the tickets to), and all five goals scored were gross.

But if I’m being honest, I simply haven’t watched enough to make a solid pick this time around. So, tell you what, the game of the week is whatever you want it to be! Yeah, how about that? That’s me giving back to you, the reader.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

David Savard was fined $5,000 for Paul Bunyon-ing Vincent Trocheck, a move that Cap’n Cornelius would probably deem the most solid defensive play he’s seen out of Savard all season.

Dan Girardi blocked a Martin Frk shot with his head, which is definitely not recommended, but luckily had all concussion tests come back negative and is only listed as day-to-day. In Girardi’s defense, at least half of the time Frk lets a shot go, even he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going (a point Red Wings’ color analyst Mickey Redmond made himself after the play occurred). For those unfamiliar with Frk, I can tell you that he almost certainly has one of the hardest shots you will ever witness. Living in northwest Ohio, I’ve had multiple opportunities to watch him in action over the past few years when he spent time with Toledo of the ECHL, and even his wrist shot hits the boards with a sound unlike anything you’ll hear from 99 percent of other players. Maybe work on keeping them down, Marty.

Patrice Bergeron had himself a four-goal game, which I assume was just to remind all of us that he’s still the best hockey player that no one ever remembers exists.

Glen Gulutzan had a meltdown for the ages at Flames practice, highlighted by heaving his stick into the stratosphere. No one has seen the stick land yet, and I assume it has simply joined Jose Bautista’s bat on its eternal journey through the cosmos.

Speaking of the Flames, the team is reportedly looking to release Jaromir Jagr, in a move that would likely put them on a level of heel heat that would rival Vince McMahon post-Montreal Screwjob (Bonus points to any reader that actually understands that reference).

Nazem Kadri fought Joe Thornton (bad idea) and apparently thought ripping some of Jumbo’s beard out would cause Joe to lose some of his strength (decent theory, story of Samson and whatnot). It did not cause him to lose his strength, though, so a bad day for Kadri there.

The Oilers nabbed goaltender Al Montoya from the Habs in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick, in a move that could be titled “Two dumpster fires exchange things in attempt to convince livid fanbases that improvements are being made.”